Thursday, March 23, 2017

Dallas Does Chicago

It has not been a good week for former Chicago general managers.  On Monday, the architect of the Chicago Bulls dynasty, Jerry Krause, passed away at the age of 77 after battling undisclosed health issues.  The gruff, old-school basketball executive was known for his secretive and oftentimes abrasive demeanor; but, that same attitude that would rub people the wrong way helped build the foundation of six NBA championships during the 1990's and a national phenomenon.  R.I.P. Jerry.

Speaking of old school executives who sometimes got on people's nerves, yesterday evening, word trickled out that former Cubs GM, Dallas Green, had passed away at the age of 82.  The baseball-lifer had been suffering from kidney disease.  Green may best be remembered for his work as a field manager with the Phillies, Yankees, and Mets, but it was he who transformed the Cubs from perpetual laughing stock to respectable contenders during the early years of the Tribune ownership era.

Behold, my only card of Mr. Green.  Front office personnel don't show up on cardboard very often... managers only slightly more.

Anyway, Green had an eight-year long career as a reliable swingman for the Phillies, Senators, and Mets during the 1960's.  Along the way, the hurler posted a career 20-22 record and 4.26 ERA in 185 total games, with 46 games started.  But, it wasn't until he transitioned from the mound to the dugout that Dallas truly made a name for himself in America's pastime.

After calling it quits on his playing career, Green joined the front office of the team with which he spent the most of his Big League tenure:  the Philadelphia Phillies.  From there, he rose through the ranks and then was named the field manager for the club late in 1979, after Danny Ozark was given the axe.  All he did was lead the Phightin' Phils to a World Series title, the very next season - it was the franchise's first such victory.

 Dallas hoists the World Series trophy

However, Green wasn't exactly beloved in the clubhouse.  Upon his hiring, he was quoted as saying "I express my thoughts. I'm a screamer, a yeller, and a cusser. I never hold back."  As such, this lead to confrontations with his team - slugger Greg Luzinski likened him to the Gestapo and pitcher Ron Reed even came to blows with his skipper.  Nevertheless, the Phillies broke their 77-year title drought and Green found himself on the radar of the Chicago Cubs.

After the Chicago Tribune purchase the listless Northside club from the Wrigley family, the newspaper company hand-picked Dallas Green to serve as their executive vice president and GM.  All in all, quite similar to when the Ricketts called on Theo Epstein to turn their new franchise around.  Also like Theo, Green immediately got about to rebuilding a team with no farm system to speak of and very little in the means of Major League talent.

Seeing as Green was intimately familiar with the Phillies, a lot of his new imports just so happened to come from the City of Brotherly Love, including his pièce de résistance.  In January of 1982, the sly exec. swapped agings shortstops in Ivan DeJesus for Larry Bowa and also acquired a prospect by the name of Ryne Sandberg.  We all know how that turned out.  Also making their way over from Philly in the next couple of years were Keith Moreland, Bob Dernier, Gary Mathews and Warren Brusstar - all vital pieces for the 1984 NL East Division Champions.  Hmmmm...sounds a lot like how Theo kept bringing in his boys from Boston, doesn't it?

That surprising club came ever-so-close to breaking the Cubs' World Series drought - one victory in the NLCS away from punching their ticket - and, had they not suffered a rash of injuries over the few seasons, may very well have been back.  Even so, under the direction of Green, the farm system of the previously "behind on the times" franchise made an almost unfathomable turnaround, producing the likes of Greg Maddux, Jamie Moyer, Mark Grace, Dave Martinez, Rafael Palmeiro, among other quality Big Leaguers.  In short, Green truly left his mark on the Chicago Cubs.

A pair of the young bucks who were drafted under Dallas' regime.

Unfortunately, his irascible nature and stubbornness eventually wore on the Trib's patience.  After canning manager Frank Luchessi at the conclusion of the 1987 season, ownership steadfastly refused his plan of signing John Vukovich to the position, despite having a contract already agreed upon.  Instead, they requested that Green return to the dugout to fill the void.  Sensing a trap, Green refused and handed in his resignation, fearing that the Tribune wanted to make him a scapegoat on the field and thus easier to terminate.  Honestly, that doesn't seem too farfetched.

After the unceremonious end in Chicago, Dallas found himself back in the dugout anyway, this time with the Yankees in 1989.  After a year of verbally sparring with owner George Steinbrenner, he was released after a single season.  He later served a  three-year tenure managing the crosstown Mets, before returning to the Phils' front office, where it all began, in 1998.  He would work there until his retirement from the game he loved.

As for his Cubs career, I can see a lot of parallels between he and Theo Epstein.  A new ownership regime hires an exciting new GM who had recently helped end a title drought in a major market.  Said new GM then goes about hiring and signing the best of the best from his previous organization, while simultaneously gutting and rebuilding the farm system.  There are definitely some basic similarities.

Dallas hard at work in the Cubs' front office, image courtesy of Illinois Entertainer

In the end, even though his run of success was brief, Green was the impetus behind the Cubs turnaround in the 1980's and his refusal to be okay with the "lovable loser" status quo saved the club from perpetual irrelevancy.  Who knows - maybe if he'd been allowed to stick around and reap the rewards of his rebuilt farm system, perhaps the Cubs' title drought would have ended a lot sooner.  In the end, he might be better remembered and more associated with Philadelphia, but he left a lasting impression on the North Side of Chicago.

R.I.P. Dallas Green.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rushing Right Off the Page

It's been a hectic week - standardized testing is taking up all of my computers and time at school, my grandmother is in and out of the hospital, track try-outs are this week and I'm an assistant coach, my license plates need to be renewed, we're finally getting around to selling off a bunch of our wedding stuff...  All I'm saying is that it's a darn good thing that spring break is coming up next week because this rushing around is taking a toll.  I could definitely use a few days to myself.

On that note, today's post will be a relative quickie.  Football season may be over, but the off-season madness is in full swing:  free agents are signing left and right as draft preparation is reaching a fever pitch.  Players are signing on the dotted line with new teams as other guys are being shown the door.

However, one guy that won't be going anywhere in the foreseeable future is the appropriately rushing Bears running back, Jordan Howard:

Howard burst onto the scene as a rookie out of Indiana University last season, quickly seizing the starting job after Jeremy Langford injured his ankle.  All Jordan did from there was set the Bears' newbie record for rushing yards - 1,313 yds - which was good for second in the NFL in 2016.  In total, Howard averaged 5.2 yards per carry and ran for six touchdowns over the course of the season.  It appears as though the Monsters of the Midway have found their next great running back, which might be the saving grace of an otherwise dismal year.

The card you see above came to me from this month's Sports Illustrated for Kids, by way of their monthly panel of perforated oddballs.  This marks the first "true" Bears card of the promising youngster to reach my Bears All-Time Roster Collection.  I have to say, I absolutely love how the running back is literally leaping out of the frame on this card.  It feels symbolic, seeing as Jordan burst out onto the scene in such a large way.

Now, I say "true" Bears card because of this super-shiny gem that Trevor from Bump and Run Football Cards sent my way a few months back:

Here we have one of Jordan Howard's true rookie cards, courtesy of Panini Prestige.  This foil board Extra Points parallel is quite easy on the eyes; but, while it lists the blossoming star with the Chicago Bears, it pictures him with the Indiana Hoosiers.  Of course, this discrepancy is to be expected, seeing as he was only drafted shortly before these cards went to press.  However, I still prefer my BATRC representatives to dress the part, as well.

With that in mind, the SI for Kids will supplant the Prestige, but I'm still very much happy to have both in hand.

While this running back won't be leaving Chicago any time soon, plenty of other fresh faces have been brought into the Windy City since the end of the backyard tire fire that was the 2016 season.  For example:

Markus Wheaton and Prince Amukamara represent a pair of veteran upgrades brought in to stabilize a roster that will otherwise slant rather young... or at least SHOULD be young.  After all, the franchise is supposedly working on a rebuild.  We'll see how that goes.

At any rate, Wheaton is a nice reclamation project, wide receiver who was hurt for most of 2016, but was quite effective for Pittsburgh previously.  With Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal departing in free agency and Kevin White's health being anything but guaranteed, look for Markus to see a lot of action.  On the other side of the ball, Prince was a Super Bowl champ with the Giants in 2014 and looks to slot in as a starter at the cornerback position.  This lucky repack pull will get the job done for my Bears binder.

Other big names to come to town include QB Mike Glennon, DB Quintin Demps, TE Dion Sims, DL John Jenkins, among others.  At the same time, several other players are moving the opposite way, like the ever-divisive Jay Cutler and, on a much less significant note, Joique Bell:

Okay, actually, Joique had his "bell" rung by the Bears back in October, but I needed some kind of segue.  Otherwise, anarchy wins.

Bell was supposed to serve as depth at the running back position when Langford was lost.  It quickly became apparent that the former Lions starter was not needed (thanks again, Howard), after four games with just three rushing yards.  Accordingly, he was cut right around Halloween time and eventually returned to the team with which he's pictured on this 2014 Strata single.  Nevertheless, I was enthused to find this scrapheap signing nestled within the same thrift store repack which produced all of this fun stuff.

A Bear is a Bear, no matter how brief or unproductive.

 You tell 'em, Horton

That does it for today's post - I know you were all super excited to hear about my latest additions to the Bears All-Time Roster Collection binder, but now the fun is done.  Try not to be TOO disappointed.

In the meantime, I've got some more chores to get done and I've got to go meet someone in order to tell some gold-painted wine bottles.  I will not miss ANY of this wedding decor that been stacked in the back corner of our basement for months, that's for certain.

See ya next time!

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Hey, Hey - What a Thrift Shop Find!

I love my baseball cards to death; however, they definitely aren't the only thing that I collect.

I've been a collector since the day that I first entered into this realm of existence.  It started with accumulating super balls from vending machines, buttons from discarded clothing, and bottle caps from abandoned campsites in the forest preserve.  Throughout the course of my childhood, I diverted my parents' funds into yo-yo's, lapel pins, Transformers action figures, "Livestrong" style wrist bands, racing die-casts, hats, wrist-watches and just about anything else that one can imagine.  God bless my parents for putting up with my mini-hoarder tendencies.

However, as an adult, my collecting has been parsed down into two main avenues.  One is obviously baseball/trading cards - after all, I do have an entire blog dedicated to that pursuit.  The other one is record collecting, which naturally branches off of my passion for music, especially rock music which predates the mid-90's.

It's rare that these two pursuits should overlap - rare, but more than never.  A few weeks back, those two worlds came crashing together, in the form of one of my treasured white whales:

Ever since I bought my first turn-table from a garage sale, around a decade ago, took it home and "restored" it with (literally) rubber bands and paperclips, the Cubs Power album that you see above is an artifact that I've chased and chased.  From overpriced antique shops, to expensive record shops, a reasonably price copy of this black circle eluded me at every corner for many moons.  Although, about three years ago, I did finally track down a copy at a local garage sale; however, the vinyl was scratched, while the sleeve and jacket were heavily warped and water damaged.  Definitely not going to cut it.

Thus, after all this time and effort, I was ecstatic when I saw the almost pristine copy that you see above buried in the dollar record bin at the local Goodwill.  Hot damn - I couldn't lay the money down fast enough!

Now, you might be asking yourself, "what exactly is this Cubs Power LP?"  Well, please allow me to explain:  in 1969, when the Cubs looked well on their way to their first World Series berth in 25 years, the franchise wanted to capitalize on their newfound glory and popularity.  Naturally, just like the Chicago Bears would do a couple of decades later, they decided to cut a record.

The Cubs had just recently had a new fight song written for them, a little ditty called "Hey, Hey, Holy Mackeral," and thus needed to commit the catchy jingle to wax.  Rather than settle for a 45 rpm single (which is also floating around out there), they also put out a long-player with the tune, a special message to the fans, recordings of the famed Bleacher Bums' (seen on the back) chants, a few additional baseball-themed songs, and more.  Now, this Cubs-themed album certainly didn't make it's way onto the Billboard charts, but it sure did light up the local rankers and radio stations.

The project was released on local Chicago label, Quill Records, which made it's name on quality recordings of mid-western garage rockers like Shadows of Knight, the Del-Vetts, the Riddles, teh Skunks, et al.  Cub Power was a little bit left of center for the label, but it quickly became a top seller.

Now, after all of these years, I finally have myself a playable copy of the regional disc - oh happy days!  Please allow me to share these wonderful sounds with the baseball card blogosphere:

Here's a look at the track listing, via the label, for side one of Cub Power - subtitled "A Day at the Ballgame."  We kick of the production with a spoken word introduction by Cubs broadcaster Jack Brickhouse and a few esteemed veteran leaders of the 1969 Chicago Cubs:  Ernie Banks, Randy Hundley and the captain, Ron Santo.  From there, the track blends seemlessly into a recording of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," as (supposedly) performed by the entire 25-man roster.

If you feel so inclined, you may listen to those first two tracks below, courtesy of my shaky cell phone footage.  I had to borrow my sister's record player as, unfortunately, my surround sound set up is currently in storage while the wife and I find our next residence.  Figures - I finally track down my white whale record and my player is in moth balls.

As for the rest of the a-side, reliever Dick Selma leads the yellow, hard-hatted Bleacher Bums in cheers.  During the regular season, Selma would take a towel and lead the chorus from the bullpen, much like a conductor would lead an orchestra.  Furthermore, we also get an additional "Salute to the Fans" from other esteemed members of the Chicago Cubs, like Fergie Jenkins, Billy Williams and broadcaster Lou Boudreau.  However, if you want to hear these sweet sounds, you'll have to track down a copy yourself - I can't spoil it all!

At this point, the needle has reached the label - it's time to flip over to side two:

Side two is the more musical portion of the LP, featuring the song stylings of the more musically inclined members of the team.  As noted at the top of the faded blue label, Opening Day hero Willie Smith, backup catcher Gene Oliver, and the unrelated utility-man Nate Oliver lend vocal assistance to the studio musicians billed as "The Bleacher Bum Eight."  Of course, manager Leo Durocher stubbornly refused to play his bench players, so we know these guys had time to hit the studio.

Here, things kick off with the main event:  "Hey, Hey, Holy Mackeral" gets things going on the b-side.  This song was the "Go Cubs Go" of it's day and still remains popular among Cubs fans.  The title and chorus is a blending of the catchphrases of the team's play-by-play men.  WGN TV man Jack Brickhouse would exclaim "hey, hey," while, on the radio side, Vince Lloyd was known for uttering "holy mackeral" whenever the Cubs did something exciting.

On the next song, Nate and Willie ditch Gene and go out on their own with "Pennant Feeling," a parody of the Righteous Brothers' all-time classic "You've Lost That Loving Feeling."  However, instead of singing about lost love, the Cub backups are belting about how they plan to bring that pennant fever feeling back to Chicago.  Of course, we all know how that ultimately turned out.  Think of it like a much more reserved version of the braggadocious "Superbowl Shuffle." 

All in all, this parody definitely isn't making Weird Al Yankovic jealous; but, it is a fun, kitschy piece that warrants at least one listen:

The last song that I'm going to offer up on this blog post is an ode to our nation's pastime.  For this one, Gene pops back up - clearly Willie and Nate realized that they just couldn't make it without their third member.  "Baseball, Baseball" is a tune that sings the praises of green grass, spring weather, and the excitement of a home run robbery catch.  It's not exactly "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," but it's sung by actual baseball players.  So, it's got that going for it.

Unfortunately, my phone ran out of storage about a third of the way through the recording, so this is truly more of a preview and a full listen.  My apologies - my phone is just too filled up with pictures of baseball cards for future posts.  Whoopsie.

The album concludes with another recording of "Hey, Hey, Holy Mackeral;" however, this one is an instrumental version.  Just like with one-hit wonders, anytime you can't generate enough content to fill an album or both sides of a single, make sure to include a instrumental version of your big hit on the b-side.  Either that, or an extended dance remix.  Just ask Rockwell, he'll tell you.

With that, we've skimmed through all of Cub Power - I hope you enjoyed your cursory listen.

In conclusion, this piece of fascinating baseball memorabilia, centered around my favorite team, makes an excellent addition to my "other" collection.  I'm supremely pleased to finally call this album my own and truly surprised that it showed up in a discount bin, in such great shape, at my local thrift store.  Seeing as it appeals to collectors of baseball ephemera, indie/regional records, and albums in general, it appeals to a lot of different markets.  With that in mind, I've seen it priced for over fifty bucks and never less than twenty... clearly, someone didn't know what they had.

At any rate, it looks great in my milk crate, along with my other latest addition.

Nevermind another white whale of mine that I thought I might have to "nevermind" the search.  Now, if only I could track down Never Mind the Bollocks...  Perhaps I should start up a blog centered around my record collecting adventures too?

Eh, maybe someday.  For now, I'll just bask in the glory and the sweet, sweet sounds of my latest 33 1/3 RPM finds.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Here Come the Hawks

The Chicago Blackhawks have absolutely been on fire lately.

After scoring four goals in just over three minutes during the third period of last night's contest, the Hawks came back and shocked the Avalanche with their fifth straight win.  Over the course of those successive victories, the Chicagoans have opened up a seven point lead over the rival lately listless Minnesota Wild in the Central Division standings.  Furthermore, as if all of that wasn't exciting enough, last night's win clinched the franchise's ninth straight playoff berth. 

With their record currently standing at 47-20, after a fairly mediocre start (by their standards), this young team is growing even stronger by the day.  With excitement building towards another deep playoff run, it was appropriate that I would receive a PWE with the following message scribbled on the seal:

Clearly someone else is feeling this fever pitch, as well.

That someone else is prolific blogger Kin Kinsley, of I Feel Like a Collector Again and Bean's Ballcard Blog fame.  We might not agree when it comes to baseball; however, come hockey season, we're both fervent Blackhawks supporters.  We've found our common ground.  In fact, Kin has quickly become one of my most supportive Blackhawk card suppliers.  My all-time roster collection for the franchise simply wouldn't be as comprehensive without his assistance.

Before we go on any further, I must confess that I am not as on top of things when it comes to hockey cards.  New sets can come and go without catching my attention because, oftentimes, my focus is on the latest in baseball.  With that in mind, I completely missed that Upper Deck had put out a set called Compendium this past December.  This was partially due to the fact that this innovative new product is available exclusively through UD's E-Pack program

Clearly, Kin is much more cutting edge than I am, as this PWE was compiled with nothing but Compendium.  From my understanding, E-Pack allows you to open packs of product online and then decide whether or not you'd like to pay to have the cards you "pull" shipped to you.  It's like Bunt or Skate or Kick or what-have-you by Topps, that is, if you could have those digital .jpg's converted into physical, real cards.

Kin - thanks a bunch for choosing to have these particular Blackhawks cards shipped, because they were all needs for my Blackhawks All-Time Roster Collection:

A couple of the new, young faces helping to power this incarnation of the Blackhawks dynasty.  Tanner Kero has been a serviceable rookie, with 12 points in 36 games and a 12 +/- rating.  Meanwhile, Gustafsson is a rook who has 14 points in 41 contests and a +/- rating of 11.  Thus, combining their relative success with their "newness" to the league, it's not surprising that their cards have a slight premium attached to them at my Chicagoland LCS locations.


Richard Panik was a bit of a reclamation project who blew into the Windy City midway through last season.    So far, the winger has certainly proven to be worth the investment, with his highlight reel goals, veteran presence, and 38 total points.  It's not quite a Jake Arrieta-like turnaround, but he's proven to be a vital part of their potent offense.

Now, those three cards were the only completely new additions to my binder; however, while the guy pictured on this next card was already represented in my Blackhawks binder, it had been in the wrong color sweater:

I may be biased, but I think Andrew Desjardins (and anyone, really) looks better in the red, Indian-head sweater.  Andrew has been something of a spare part and an almost forgotten man during the 2016-17 season; but, nevertheless, the winger needed to be repped in the proper swag within my binder, just the same.

Fun fact - that Sharks Score card from a few years back dates back to the beginning of my Hawks tome, a prize from the first hockey dimebox dig that provided the base for said collection.

Finally, the final card contained within Kin's generous PWE was a need... that is until I purchased a card for the same purpose at my LCS, not even two days before his gift arrived in my mailbox.  Remember - patience is a virtue, kiddies!

The 16-17 OPC card is cool and all and marks the first time I was able to locate a card of the Czech defenseman (despite being around Chicago since 2012), but any card that is gifted to me is ultimately much cooler and more appreciated.  As such, I'll be using Kin's Compendium to fill Michal's slot in my Hawks binder.  I definitely feel more of a connection with a gift than an impulse buy, don't you all?

With that, we've finished off the contests of Kin's surprise envelope, chock full o' E-Pack exclusive Blackhawks cards that, otherwise, would have likely never come close to my possession.  Plus, to top it all off, he even used a stamp that features my wife's favorite animal - major bonus points:

Though she feverishly collects rubber ducks, penguins are truly her bird of a feather.  Meanwhile, mine is definitely the Hawk(s)!

Many thanks, Kin, for thinking of me and taking the time to mail these wonderful new additions to my collection.  I'll definitely make sure to get a proper return package in the mail as a proper thank you.  You rock!

Here's hoping that our favorite hockey team can continue their momentum tomorrow versus the Vancouver Canucks and claim their sixth straight victory.  Taking advantage of a significantly weaker team and adding some even more ground between Chicago and Minnesota sounds like a strong possibility to me.  What say you, Kin?

Sunday, March 19, 2017

"Rounding Third, He Was Headed for Home"

R.I.P. Chuck Berry

On one of my very first mix-Cd's, back when that was a thing, a goofy, old novelty number known as "My Ding-a-Ling" snuck it's way onto the track-listing, courtesy of my father.  Little did I realize that this chuckle-worthy ditty about a kid and his treasured (but unfortunately named) silver bell instrument was performed by one of the most legendary musicians in the history of rock and roll.  Though not befitting of the original axe-man's storied legacy, his only number one single on the Billboard Hot 100 served as my access point for the expansive and influential discography of Mr. Berry.

From there, the Beatle's cover of "Roll Over Beethoven," Marty McFly's time-altering performance of "Johnny B. Goode," the similarities between the Beach Boy's "Surfin' USA" and "Sweet Little Sixteen" further enlightened me and caused me to seek out the originals.  Before I knew it, songs like "Promised Land," "No Particular Place to Go," and "Little Queenie" made it into regular rotation on my bedroom speakers.

Berry's influence on the rock and roll genre is far to immense to properly sum up or pay tribute to in a blurb on a baseball card blog; but, suffice it to say, without his trademark licks, his stage persona, his famed "duck walk," etc., the genre simply wouldn't be the same.  Heck - it might not even BE at all.  After all, his influence extended heavily into the catalogs of Elvis, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and other such rock luminaries.  Still performing well into his 80's, it was clear that he truly loved the music.

Custom created with the Rookies App

Plus, as if he couldn't get any cooler, in my eyes, Berry was a noted baseball nut.  Of course, I might not approve of his choice in teams; nevertheless, he will always be my favorite Cardinals fan!

Last night, it was announced that, at the age of 90, Charles Edward Anderson Berry passed away in his Wentzville, Mo. home.  It's been a rough year and a half for rock and roll legends, with the losses of Bowie, Prince, Lemmy, George Michael, Scott Weiland, barely scratching the surface.  I suppose the only solace here is that Chuck was able to lead a full, rich and apparently gratifying life.  Nevertheless, he will be greatly missed.

R.I.P. Chuck Berry

Friday, March 17, 2017

No - Not THAT Drake

Ain't no "Hotline Bling" in this post.

Cheap vintage will always bring a smile to my face.  Especially cheap Cubs vintage.  Especially, especially, cheap Cubs vintage in today's market and my geographical location, where anything Northside baseball-related is priced like fine art.  Anything with a red "C" on it has a tendency to be over-valued in these parts, especially if it's older than the "junk wax era."

But, sometimes gems slip through the cracks.

When I'm bored, I like to search "Cubs card" on Ebay and sort the listings by "lowest price + shipping," just to see what kind of deals are to be had.  Usually, it's a bunch of 1990 Donruss or '89 Topps singles for spare change; but, every now and again, something actually catches my eye.  In a slew of "overproduction era" kindling, a 1957 Topps single definitely stands out from the crowd:

However, with an opening bid of 69 cents (hehe), free shipping, and a couple of days left on the listing, I didn't truly expect this Solly Drake artifact to stay at such a bargain price.  Nevertheless, I threw in the opening bid because, hey, you never know.  That's the story of how I ended up with this lovely, 60-year old stadium shot for less than my LCS charges for 2017 base cards.  I'll take that everytime.

Even better, this card was needed for my Cubs All-Time Roster Collection, seeing as it's Solly's only card in Cubbie Blue and he had been previously represented in that binder in a different shade of blue:

Dodger Blue is fine and dandy, but Cubbie Blue always takes priority in my collection.  This miscut, off center, 1959 piece of vintage will shift nicely into my "Cubs of a Different Color" collection.  That binder is made up of eventual Windy City ballplayers shown during stints with other clubs.

Drake didn't spend a lot of time with the Trolley Dodgers - just nine games during the '59 campaign, before being purchased by the Phillies and spending the rest of the year in Philadelphia.  Getting an extended audition as an extra outfielder in the City of Brotherly Love, Drake batted an anemic .145 in 70 PA's, punching his ticket back to the minor leagues, where he toiled until 1961.

But, before all of that, he got his pro baseball career started with the Chicago Cubs organization.

Solly signing autographs during his brief stint playing in the LA Coliseum, image courtesy of History For Sale

Signed as an amateur free agent out of his native Little Rock, AR in March of 1951, Solly slowly rose through the ranks and, after two years of military service thrown in, reached the Bigs for the first time in 1957.  That same year, his hometown was all over the news, as the Little Rock Nine made history by bravely enrolling at and attending the all-white Little Rock Central High School.  It was a tumultuous time for Drake's hometown, and race relations in general; but, while he was away in Chicago, playing for a team that was notably slow to integrate, I have little doubt that the Cubs outfielder was paying attention.

As for his baseball acumen, after breaking camp with the Big League club, Solly saw action in 65 contests that season as the fifth outfielder, posting a decent .256 batting average in 215 AB's, with an additional 23 walks showing his keen eye at the dish.  Furthermore, he only made one error in the field, making for an "above replacement level" debut (0.4 WAR).  Not bad for his first trial.

The Cubs, however, were not all that impressed and Drake found himself sold to "Dem Bums" just in time for their first season in LA.  Having to prove himself in a new organization, all over again, he spent the entire year back in the bush leagues and we already know what happened from there.  Post-baseball, Drake attended Philander Smith College, back in Little Rock, graduating with a double major in psychology and physical education.  Eventually, Solly returned to LA to serve as the Senior Pastor of the Greater Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church, until his retirement last year.

Also, just one year after Solly completed his Major League career, his little brother Sammy debuted in the Bigs for the same club that gave the elder his first break.  Fun fact - the Drake brothers were the very first pair of African-American brothers to play in the Major Leagues.  It's just too bad that their careers just missed overlapping and they didn't get the chance to play each other.

Like Solly, Sammy's MLB time was brief - 28 games for the 1960-61 Cubs and 25 games for the infamous inaugural season of the Mets.  Nevertheless, he was able to find his way onto a Topps card - the '62 single that you see above - in a Cubs uniform, which also resides in my CATRC.  However, the expansion draft selection is listed as a Met.  So, does this count as a (well-loved) Cubs card??  This is quite the quandary.

Fixed it!

All in all, that's the story of how I ended up with a lovely 60 year old piece of cardboard for less than the price of a vending machine can of pop, which also served as a coveted "Cubgrade" for my main collection.  Also, as an added bonus, you got the story of the player depicted and were clued into my dilemma associated with his brother's only contemporary baseball card.  Consider this my St. Patrick's day gift to the cardsphere.

Cheap vintage is truly the gift that keeps on giving.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Break Out the (Stubbly) Bubbly

Because anytime I get to add a new name to the Cubs All-Time Roster Collection binder is a cause worth celebrating!

If you've been around the blogosphere for a while, you've almost certainly encountered Stubby, at least once or twice.  The man doesn't operate a blog of his own, but he is a fairly prodigious reader and pops up in the comments section of many a prominent ball card blog, from time to time.  Stubby is a knowledgeable fan, knows his baseball cards and is a certifiably kind soul.

Additionally, Stubby knows his baseball cards so well that he can create some mighty fine ones himself, under the Stubbly Bubbly banner.  On the old forum, Stubby would often showcase his work, including his comprehensive set on the history of the cult-favorite Seattle Pilots; that website might be gone, but you can still view this work at Scott Crawford on Cards.  Furthermore, Stubby has also become known for another, running set that he maintained in tribute to players who went to that big ball-yard in the sky, throughout the years.

Of the latter, I have a couple examples already sitting in my collection, as Stubby graciously forwarded them my way, in the earliest days of Wrigley Roster Jenga... along with a boatload of other vintage Topps and Conlon guys that I needed for my CATRC.  Told ya he's a good egg.  The Bubbly Jophery Brown and Gabe Gabler he created are not only the best cards I've ever seen of those two men, they're the only ones!

Every year, I do a quick run-down and final tribute post to all of the former Cubs who have moved on to the next realm - in 2016, one of which was Gordon Massa, who passed away in July at the age of 80.  Sadly, he has never had a baseball card made in his honor.  At least, I THOUGHT he hadn't - little did I know that Stubby was on the case and he soon thereafter contacted me to offer up his tribute to the short-term catcher.

The design is simple and sharp, evocative of the old, bubble gum cards of the time (hence, Stubbly BUBBLY), with an expertly-colorized, crisp photo of the young man at Wrigley Field in 1957.  This card is going to look swell in my CATRC binder! 

Massa was an all-around athlete who played football, basketball, and baseball for The College of the Holy Cross.  In fact, he was so impressive on the gridiron, he was actually drafted by the New York Giants in 1957; however, baseball was "Moose's" true passion, so he signed on with the Cubs organization in June of that year.  It didn't take long for him to rise to the Majors, as he earned himself a September call-up before the season was out, going 7 for 15 at the plate and starting 4 games behind the dish.

However, despite this impressive debut, "Duke's" playing time quickly evaporated.  He was sent back down to the minors for the start of the '58 campaign and didn't come back up until September, again.  This time, two pinch-hitting appearances were the extent of his action and, unfortunately, put a period on his Big League career.  That said, Gordon did continue to toil in the minors through 1963.

Gordon's excellent debut in 1957 is chronicled in the stat-line of his Stubbly Bubbly single - it's hard to believe that on those talent-challenged Cubs teams of the 1950's that Gordon couldn't get an extended chance to prove his worth. 

Beneath that, we get a detailed anecdote about Gordon Massa, a story which I've never heard told in all of my years as a Cubs fan.  If you can't read that text, I'll transcribe it right here:

"Although Gordon's Major League career was brief, he was involved in one odd event that is forever etched into law.  He was the bullpen catcher warming up Bob Rush when a wild pitch hit a fan in the head.  The pitch was so wild, a leaping 6'3' Massa couldn't reach it.  The fan sued.  Teams had long prevailed in such suits under the principle of "assumed risk" - - attend a ballgame and you assume the risk of being hit by an errant ball.  But, in this case, the judge ruled for the fan, reasoning that a spectator could not be expected to watch both the ball in play and the bullpen action simultaneously.  Since the fan had no reason to expect a threat from the bullpen, he had not assumed the risk."

That's a whoopsy on Mr. Rush!

I've never heard of a similar incident occurring in all the years since then.  Also, I can say for certain that from this point on, it will never, ever happen again, since the bullpens have no officially been moved under the bleachers and are no longer on the field.  Now we know the REAL reason that they wanted to move the bullpens....

Now, this Stubbly Bubbly oddball didn't come alone.  No, no - Stubby's generosity knows no bounds.  The artist also included a few other bonus items that I did not know were coming my way, including one more from his "final tributes" series:

Because, as Stubby puts it, "the curse died too," the Curse of the Billy Goat shows up on his checklist for 2016.  I have to say, I got a nice chuckle out of this and the photo selection is absolutely top notch - I haven't seen this one used too often.  I love that Anthony Rizzo is absolutely losing his mind, on the right of the scrum.

As you can see by looking at the Cubs logos on the front of these two cards, Stubby switches them up based on the era of the subject depicted.    It's a small, but very much effectual change.

Let's take a look at the back:

The backs of these tribute cards are quite reminiscent of Topps cards from the 1950's, a look that I'm sure Stubby was going for.  The bats running up the sides make for a nice frame around the write-up, this one detailing the history of the Cubs curses - Billy Goat, opposition to integration, day games, and Bartman.

Unfortunately, Stubby has informed me that this will be the last year he will be creating this wonderful cards.  Understandably, the costs of printing these out on professional, glossy card stock has just gotten too high to justify the expenditure.  However, if you're interested in either of the above cards, Stubby graciously included doubles, as well.  These may be the last of the Stubbly Bubblys, which saddens me greatly, so let me know if you'd like a copy!

Meanwhile, as if all of that wasn't enough, Stubby also included yet another pair of bonus Lennie's for my enjoyment:

Lennie Merullo was a light-hitting shortstop with a strong arm who played for the Cubs during the War Era; this included the 1945 Cubs, who, until last season, were the last Northside club to reach the World Series.  For a while there, Lennie could lay claim to being the only man on earth to ever play in a World Series with the Cubs, as he was the longest-living of the bunch.  Sadly, he passed away in 2015, just year before the team's grand return.  As such, the blue-bordered beauty you see above was part of Stub's 2015 tribute checklist.

Cubs cards with blue borders are always a-ok in my book!  Also, you gotta love the rare appearance of the zipper on a baseball uniform.

CARTOONS!  A staple of baseball cards of the fifties and sixties make a glorious reappearance on this edition of Stubby's tributes!  All on a back that reminds me of 1954 Topps.

Lennie's cartoon spotlights a chuckle-worthy anecdote.  On the day that his son, Len Jr., was born, owner P.K. Wrigley informed Lennie just before he was set to take the field for that day's contest.  The shortstop was so deeply rattled, that he set a record by committing four errors in just one inning!  Lennie Jr. was promptly nicknamed "Boots."  The "don't drop him!" voice bubble on that cartoon actually made me laugh out loud.

Additionally, from the write up in the blue bubble, I learned that Merullo once knocked out the front teeth of Dixie Walker in a benches-clearing brawl.  His accuracy wasn't hurting that day!

Lennie and his nerve-wracking son, "Boots"

The second Lennie that was nestled within Stubby's envelope wasn't one of his regular tribute cards; rather, he came across an image of the middle infielder which reminded him of those action shots used in 1971 Topps, so he took it upon himself to make it into one.

Clearly he has a keen eye, because, if I didn't know better, I'd have thought this truly was a Topps card from 1971:

You don't see a lot of pictures of 1940's baseball in action, so that already makes this card unique.  From my understanding, the original image was in black and white, so I'd say that Stubby did an excellent job in colorizing the picture for his card.  As an added bonus, it's also a textbook "Tattooine" shot.

Stub's block-bordered 1971 template is spot-on, including the backside:

Stubby - are you sure you didn't just send me an Archives card?  😝

With that, we've finally reached the end of an exceptionally generous and extremely fascinating bubble-mailer.  All in all, I ended up being able to add another name to my CATRC that I never thought I'd get to, got some extra, awesome oddballs for my binders, and acquired some unique trade-bait for future dealings.  Not bad, eh?

Thanks again, Stubby, for thinking of me and taking the time to create these wonderful baseball cards.  It's a shame that you won't be able to print them out anymore, but I hope this is not the last time that I get to see your work!  Hell, your Stubbly Bubbly's are better than most of the stuff that Topps and Panini are cranking out today.  You'll be getting some pocket schedules in the mail, it's the least I can do to return the favor.

Stubbly Bubbly makes me all bubbly inside.